NFL rulebook

by Tiffany Lott – editor of Layton Turner’s A Writer’s Journey blog.

When my husband and I first married, I knew he had some hobbies, such as hunting and working like a madman, but little did I know that deep down inside, a passion for football was scratching its way to the surface. He’d played a bit of football in Jr. High, but I hadn’t heard more than a peep about it, which was all well and good for me because I despised football. Baseball, I could handle, but football? No, thank you.

About five years into our marriage, my husband started watching the Razorbacks play college football. It wasn’t a religious viewing like most other Arkansan households – just here and there. Still, I’d walk through the living room, rolling my eyes, completely uncertain why a bunch of guys tackling each other to the ground was something of a spectacle.

Within the next couple of years, he watched a few more ball games than usual, but also added his favorite NFL team, the Washington Redskins – an inherited trait from an aunt, from what I understand. Other than learning that the Redskins offensive line was also once known as “The Hogs,” and thinking it was neat that the two football teams he liked had that in common, I didn’t give it another thought.

After another year down the road, some of the Razorback seniors had been drafted into the NFL, so, naturally, my husband started watching them play in their various teams. He also had to watch the Redskins rivals – the Cowboys, which is actually the NFL team most Arkansans flock to, but not my husband.

The next year, 2011, I was big and pregnant with our second boy. One particular week, instead of watching the ball game on the tube, my husband decided to drive four hours up to Fayetteville with our son and watch it in person. This was new, but not completely surprising. What was the shocker was that he came home and watched it again online, then watched it a third time during a replay the next Wednesday night. That was when I knew – I wasn’t getting away from football. This was not some fad that would go away if I just ignored it long enough. Football was in our house to stay.

The next week, I surprised my husband by sitting down in the living room to watch the Razorbacks play. If I was going to live with football, I might as well learn what was happening. “What’s that line on the football field?” I asked. “It’s not on the football field,” my husband said. “The T.V. station just puts it on there for viewers. It’s an imaginary line called the line of scrimmage.” “Line of scrimmage. Got it.” Having zero knowledge of the sport, I had many questions. It was very much like “The Cornhusker Vortex” episode of The Big Bang Theory. “What’s that signal the ref just did?” He’d been rolling his fists into a circle, which reminded me of hand gestures done while singing Sunday School songs. “It’s a penalty. A false start. It’s when the offensive line moves before the ball is hiked.” “Okay, but that guy just moved, and they didn’t call it,” I accused. “He’s in the backfield, so that’s okay. It’s only the offensive line – the guys lined up at the front – that can’t move.” A bit later, I thought I had the hang of it. “Oh! False start!” I yelled, proudly. “No, that was offside.” “Offside?” “Yeah. When the defensive line goes over the line of scrimmage, that’s called offside.” So many rules, but okay. A few plays later, I saw it again. “Offside!” “No, that was a false start.” “What? But the guy on defense crossed the line,” I whined, sure I had it this time. “But he only did that because one of the offensive lineman moved. That’s why they can’t move,” he explained from his recliner.

Regardless of the number of times I didn’t quite understand, and asked about more and more rules, my husband remained patient with me throughout all my questions. I learned the number of chances (downs) the offense has to get to a first down (10 yards from the line of scrimmage), the difference between points earned for a field goal (3) versus a touchdown (6), a point after versus a two-point conversion, what a safety is (the position and the scoring play), and a few more hand signals for penalties, such as holding, face mask, defensive pass interference, horse collar tackle, and delay of game, plus much more.

Years later, I asked my husband if it bothered him that I asked questions. His reply: “No, I’m just thrilled you’re watching it with me.” Now, both of my boys are in football, one in high school tackle, the other in flag. My oldest just had a scrimmage game. It was my first scrimmage game to ever attend. They played where each side got eight offensive tries before switching to the other team. I heard someone say that, but the last eight years of football knowledge drilled into my brain just didn’t grasp it. So when my son’s team fumbled the ball, and it was recovered by the other team, I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand why my son’s team got the ball back.

When my husband explained, reminding me about the eight offensive attempts, I said, “That’s just dumb!” What was the point of watching a game where they don’t play by the rules I know? Oh, right! To support my son. I’ve learned when watching football, I can’t listen to my husband’s commentary because he understands the sport much more than I do – like strategy and play calling. He’ll say, “If I were them, I’d do such-and-such,” and then they’ll do that. It’s like spoiling a movie. While there is still much to learn, I now know enough to understand what’s going on in the game. And with that knowledge, I actually enjoy watching football.


I am an avid football and basketball fan following the two sports for the last 25 years.

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